Saturday, October 31, 2020

Who was it in skeleton costume?

 

It was the last week of October. The pandemic confined Sumitra and Sudhakar rao to their home with very rare visits outside. They have been living in Boston for more than 10 years. The weather was getting cooler, the leaves were changing their colors and some falling announcing the onset of winter soon. They were on a long drive towards North to see nature’s beauty in many of its transient forms. The trees were lined up on both sides of the road with their leaves in various hues with scarlet and gold dominating the landscape. Little the trees were aware that they would soon be naked waiting for spring to clothe them again. It might be a refreshing change the couple thought from the dull home and duller routine of working all day.

“Why are you morose, Sumi? Watch out the captivating scenes outside. We came out primarily to watch the nature in its splendor,” asked Sudhakar rao.

Sumitra did not reply but looked at him intently wondering at the question.

“I know. You do not have to explain. No point in grieving over things over which we have no control. Our son Sundar came in our lives like a fleeting star only to vanish away. I know it is a less than a year. Have fond memories of him but do not grieve,” Sudhakar consoled her.

“In another three days we have Halloween. He used to pester me for different types of costumes each year and remind me of the candies to be bought. I will miss him going along with his friends in his costume. If he is a bit late, his friends would be knocking at our door,” she said in sobbing tone.

“Let us stop on the way back at Target to buy some candies for the children. Let us not deprive them of their joy and expectations because of our grief,” suggested Sudhakar.

Both of them lost interest in the scenic drive and started driving back home. There was total silence till they found a Target store open. When he went near the candies section, she went to Halloween costumes section to relive her last visit to buy costume for Sundar. There were many kids and moms with their masks keeping distance from each other.

The shelves featured costumes in many varieties mostly in loud black, red and yellow to appear as skeletons, witches, ghosts and in many other scary designs. Last year Sundar wanted a skeleton costume in ghost form but she insisted him to take a fire fighter costume. After much discussion, she agreed to his compromise proposal for a firefighter disguise for the year and the extra one in black and red skeleton to be used in the subsequent year. He was jumping with joy at his acquisitions and also made sure she bought Eclairs, his favourite along with other candies. Unable to bear the torment of sad memory, she came away quickly from costume section.

She found her husband waiting with packets of candies. “Have you bought some Eclairs? Sundar loved them so much,” Sumitra enquired.

“Oh I am sorry, I didn’t buy. Let me get it,” he said as he rushed inside.

Three days later it was Halloween day. Not wishing Sundar to miss the fun even when he was no more, she bought two carved pumpkins with lamps inside to be lit in the porch. She had kept baskets filled with candies ready even before dusk when the kids usually visit homes.

It was 7pm.Sudhakar was busy in his room chatting with some of his cousins when she heard the door bell. She rushed to see five urchins in their costumes with their faces hidden except for eyes and mouth. One of them looked like Spiderman, another a hair-rising monster, yet another but short figure as a bunny rabbit along with another looking like a witch. A little behind she saw the fifth figure in skeleton costume in black and red resembling a ghost identical to what she bought for Sundar.

She hurried inside and brought the baskets of candies for them to help themselves. She asked the fifth boy standing behind the four ,”Why are you standing behind others? Come forward and stand in line with your four friends.”

“Mrs.Rao, we are only four. In fact, we wished to take Sundar with us as he normally accompanies us. Is he not well or what?” said a boy turning around to see only four including him and added” I think you are imagining,” with all the three others affirming in chorus.

“No, I see clearly the fifth boy in the skeleton robe before me as clear as the palm in my hand” and asked the boy in the disguise of skeleton, “Why don’t you come forward? Have you taken the candies? You seem shy,”

When she heard the fifth boy asking in squeaky voice,” Where are the Eclairs? You know that I love them so much?”, she almost fainted crying,” Are you my dearest Sundar? Won’t you call me mom and speak to me?”

The bewildered American boys looked at her in utter disbelief while one of them pressed the bell bringing Sudhakar into the scene.

“Sir, we are only four but Mrs. Rao insists that we are five and that the fifth is Sundar. Do you see him here by any chance?”

“No, I see only four of you. As we lost our son Sundar, may be she is overcome by grief and imagining. She will be fine in a short while. Thank you for pressing the bell,” explained Sudhakar. The four boys said sorry in unison and quietly left.

Meanwhile she rushed inside to Sundar’s room and opened the closet looking for the skeleton costume she bought extra last year at Sundar’s insistence to be used subsequently. Lo! it was not seen at the place she had kept. She searched the closet completely only to draw a blank. Many questions like “Where had the costume gone? Who could have taken it? Is it not the same one worn by the fifth boy? Is it Sundar as he asked for Éclair?” tormented her to no end as she wailed in grief.

Sudhakar, no wiser than the baffled boys, put his arm around Sumitra who was inconsolably crying and led her to the bedroom.

“Who was the fifth boy Sumitra saw in identical skeleton robe and who asked for Eclairs?” haunted his mind too with no answer.

 

 

 

 


Thursday, September 17, 2020

Ma's compassion

(Normally this is the time for the advent of Durga Puja/Navratri but they are on astrological considerations  being celebrated a month hence.Nevertheless I thought a story featuring Kali Ma would be apt now.)

It was a leisurely journey by AC two-tier rom Kolkata (then Calcutta) to Chennai. I have an aversion for reading long novels during train journey as most do. Instead I enjoy conversing with co-passengers drawn from different back grounds. Those days there was no menace of biscuit bandits. The gentleman next to me was a portly man, dark complexioned, clad in white khadar and ash mark on his forehead with kumkum between the brows. He was sporting a rudhraksha mala around his neck. With his eyes closed, he did not appear to evince any interest in the conversation around him.

When he opened his eyes, I smiled at him and asked him,” Are you traveling beyond Chennai?”

” Yes, up to Madurai,” he replied

“Do you reside in Madurai or Kolkata?” I asked wishing to prolong the conversation.

“I belong to Madurai. I came to Kolkata to visit the Kali temple at Dakshineswar and Ramakrishna Ashram at Belur”

“Oh, you must be spiritually inclined. What do you do for living? I hope your family is there.”

He let off a sigh.” I have none. I do not work. It is a long story and I would prefer to talk about it later. I am very tired and would like to rest for some time, “ he said and went up to the upper berth

My curiosity was roused. I was intrigued by his response but waited for him to open up on his own. It was a few hours later when he came down for a cup of coffee, he cleared his throat and talked in low tone that was almost a whisper.

He said with a rueful smile,” You asked me many questions. Let me tell you in my own way. Though it is very personal and unsavoury, I do not mind sharing with you as It will relieve me of my stress somewhat. I belong to Madurai district and born to a very rich landlord. Being the only son, he pampered me a lot. He wanted me to look after the extensive land and the rice mills after my graduation.

I had an aversion for agriculture and the village atmosphere with mud roads, the smell of cow dung and stacks of gunny bags with paddy. I longed to be in Chennai permanently amid the many friends that I had cultivated in college. I had a weakness for watching Tamil films. The village had no theatre facility. There was no television then. My dad’s repeated pleas to assume responsibility to look after the lands and mills fell on deaf ears. He was getting old and falling sick frequently. My parents pressured me to get married to a good looking girl who had studied only up to class 10. They thought this would bind me with home and stop my frequent visits to Chennai. No doubt it did initially.

After the demise of my father a year later, my mother too died in a few months. I was compelled to take charge of the responsibility. Having neither experience nor interest, I could not manage the farm operations. I did not listen to the advice of elderly well-wishers of our family or the loyal employees. It soon started to be a losing proposition and became worse in five years when a distant relative offered to buy up the lands and the house. I jumped at the offer, collected a tidy amount and reached Chennai.”

“Did you not consult your wife or her parents before this momentous decision? “I asked

“My wife was averse to my decision but knew I was adamant by nature and never paid heed to her words. I was never close to my in-laws. I had enough money to live comfortably without working. I bought a nice house in Mylapore, furnished it well, acquired a new car and happily settled down.

Initially it was all hunky dory but gradually I fell into bad company and developed all vices: races, wine and women. Meanwhile my wife had conceived to our great joy. This was not to last long as she developed complications at the time of delivery and passed away giving birth to a still born baby. I started drinking heavily to drown the sorrows. It was in that unguarded moment that one of my friends sowed the idea of taking a film feeding me with rosy stories of successful producers and the good life they had with lady actors.

Being a green horn in the film industry I was surrounded by greedy tricksters with money flowing like water for setting up an office, staff, food and drinks, story discussions at expensive hotel and identifying actresses and actors with tidy advances. It all ended up in making a film that was a total flop and did not last a week. To make a long story short, I lost all my wealth and was saddled with debts. I became an insolvent and virtually thrown out on the road. The ‘friends’ deserted me as was expected. I was also a physical wreck afflicted by a dreaded disease and could not work.”

He stopped there and said that he was tired and that he would continue after dinner. A dismal story, I thought to myself, that we often hear from the cine field and the man went down low in my esteem. Dinner over, he resumed his narration without any prompting.

“With no home I loitered around not knowing where to go and what to do. I had no skills to work having wasted away my life. I was restless having foolishly frittered away all the wealth. To get some peace, I gravitated towards Sri Ramakrishna Mission ashram. I sat there daily for long hours dazed with tears trickling down.

 One day a kindly swamiji in ochre robes patted me gently and said “Do not grieve whatever be the reason. I often see people coming in such state here. Do not give up hope and try to be manly.”

 I narrated him my tale. “It is sad that you have lost both your wife and money. You have also realized with much remorse the wrong way you had led your life thus far. These are the outcomes of prarabda karma. You could not have prevented it. Though relatively young, you look very sick. Would you like to rebuild your life and start afresh?” he asked.

“No, Swamiji, I do not have many years to live and would not like to get into that cesspool again. Can I stay and work in the ashram? To be frank, being a sick person with a deadly disease, I would not like to pollute the ashram”

Swamiji in a consoling voice said” Ashram admits only sanyasins. It is not easy to become sanyasin as the initiation would be done only in deserving cases with the right temperament after a long wait. Many do not turn up again. In your case as you are ill, it is best to spend your remaining years in the vicinity of a temple praying for your salvation. Temples provide food. Hand over whatever money you have to some charitable institution and they may provide room and food.”

“Yes Swamiji, I think this is the best course open to me”

“Do not grieve much. Confessing one’s faults sincerely is a sign of repentance and transformation. I would strongly urge you to visit Dakshineswar before going to your place and pray with devotion to the merciful Ma to give you peace and comfort. I am sure Divine Mother will listen to your prayers and do what is best for you,” the swamiji advised

“I am now going back to Madurai to collect some money kept with a distant relative. I intend to settle down near a famous temple in a nearby district. This journey to Kolkata has made me very weak and my condition worse. Sorry sir, I have burdened you with my depressing story.”

“What did you pray to Kali Ma?” I asked.

“Sorry, I forgot to tell you. It was an undefinable and mesmerizing experience that I had never felt before when I had Her darshan. My mind went totally blank with no thought of me or my needs. I was completely lost in Her divinity and compassion till I was nudged by the crowd of devotees to move. I turned my face towards Her to have one last look and prayed Her to give me peace,” he replied with his eyes becoming moist.

I had no words to comfort him and said “It is getting late. Go to sleep. We will see in the morning”

I was woken up in the morning by the aroma of coffee. When I was having mine, I remembered the gentleman on the top berth. I thought he was catching up with the lost sleep after unburdening his weight on me. An hour went by and breakfast had started coming. I stood up and patted him. When there was no response, I did again and this time with a nudge. There was no movement. A young man went up and shook him only to find him inert and lifeless. I was wonder struck at Ma’s infinite compassion in answering his prayers with such swiftness.

 

Saturday, September 12, 2020

The magic of the kite

Dinesh and Savitri along with their six-year-old son had come to South India on a vacation. They had been planning this visit for a long time with Chennai as their last point. Both of them had not seen Marina beach in their life. They had reserved one day in Chennai specially for this purpose.

When they went early in the evening, they were taken in by the bewitching beauty of Marina beach. The warmth of the long stretch of sands, the view of the vast expanse of sea with its roaring waves in the azure back ground and the accompanying cool breeze transported them to heavenly joy. Both had wanted to stand in the water and enjoy the waves lashing at their feet. But they had not envisaged the great problem that arose from their son Varun.

 Ever since he came to the beach, he was cross and irritable. He was scared of the sea with its vast expanse of water and its giant waves. He grumbled that he cannot walk on the sand and complained of pain in the leg. He squatted on the sand sobbing and imploring them not to go near the water. He was throwing up all sorts of tantrums. Not all the cajoling and appeasing with candies, ice cream, and pony ride would make him budge. He stood adamant refusing to move and wailing at the top of his voice. He was afraid the water would swallow them. The couple were at their wit’s end not knowing what to do. They didn’t want to miss enjoying the beach having come this far but were also averse to make the boy cry further.

It was then Varun saw one young boy of his age with his shorts fully drenched in water returning with his dad from the sea shore. He. came running straight towards Varun and surprisingly handed him over the thread of the kite he was keeping afloat. Varun was elated at this unexpected gesture and got immersed in keeping the kite afloat in the sky. He stopped crying and was able to stabilize the kite with the help of his daddy. All his petulance had vanished and he was walking with his parents towards the water. There was no resistance as he was busy keeping the kite in position. Dinesh and Savitri took turns to stand in the water with the waves breaking on their legs, and drenching their clothes. It was an exhilarating and new experience for them. The sun was still shining but they had to leave to catch the night train to Delhi.

When they started walking back, with a reluctant Varun behind them, towards the waiting car on the road, they saw another young boy again of Varun’s age with his parents crying and refusing out of fear to move towards the sea. He too, as Varun did, squatted on the sand, and wailed hysterically with his parents looking helplessly.

Varun was amused. His parents smiled remembering the antics of Varun a couple of hours before. They were surprised when Varun walked towards the crying boy and handed over the thread of the kite that was still floating up in the sky. The same metamorphosis from fear to joy came about in the boy’s face with Varun walking proudly with his parents towards the car.

(Written 11 years back,this story has not been read by most of my current followers)


Saturday, August 22, 2020

A promise hastily made

 The young man was in deep debt. The debtors were pressurising him with threats. He was the sole bread winner for parents and younger siblings. His income was hardly adequate to meet the basic needs of the family.  He could see no way out except to take refuge in God at the temple. He took a bath, applied ash marks prominently on his forehead, arms and chest went to the nearest Vinayak temple. He removed his shirt, stood bare bodied before Lord Ganesha praying devoutly with his eyes in tears.

” Show me a way out of this mess I am in. If I am freed of this burden of debts and the onerous task of looking after the family, I promise to you sincerely that I would renounce the world and be your devotee forever. Kindly show your compassion, “he pleaded.

As there was a jostling crowd in the morning, he chose a corner and sat with his eyes closed to chant His name.1008 times keeping his shirt before him.

Many devotees thought him to be a mendicant and dropped coins, notes and even fruits. Engrossed in prayer, he did not notice this. It took a long time for him and just when he completed the count, the temple bell tolled repeatedly and loudly.as if to signify his prayer was answered.’

The young man rose to jump in joy with his eyes closed unknowingly at the amused smiles of the people at the young man jumping madly as if possessed. When he opened his eyes and saw the small crowd around, he was highly embarrassed and bent to pick his shirt. To his utter bewilderment, he saw the coins, currency notes, fruits and surprisingly a lottery ticket too on and around the shirt. He hurriedly picked them all and made a hasty exit.

He thought someone had left an expired and useless lottery ticket. However, his curiosity overcame his impulse to discard it and found the next day was the day for the results. He was hopeful that Lord would not let him down but had not much hope on the lottery ticket. He put his signature and address behind the lottery ticket as a matter of abundant precaution.

The next day when he went to the bazaar, he was thrilled to find the ticket had won him one crore of rupees. All his problems seemed to vanish in a trice like snowflakes before Sun. Lord Vinayaka in His infinite mercy had answered his prayers. He quickly settled the debts, opened a small grocery store for his father and made proper investments to get regular monthly income.

 After a month his conscience pricked that his part of the prayer remained to be fulfilled, when he saw in the bazaar young and beautiful girls walking past him, the array of textile shops with display of beautiful clothes and the bars and beer beckoning him. He had not gone to temple except once after winning the lottery for elaborate puja and offerings.

Unable to bear the guilt and remorse at his being a cheat, he bought himself an ochre robe and gave away the pant and shirt to a beggar. He decided to move away from family and the town., His mind was restless as he sat in the temple in his yellow robes. Tears trickled from his eyes as he realized it was not easy to take to Sanyas.It was a foolish promise made in haste but he cannot fail to keep it. He was in a quandary not knowing how to get out of this tricky situation that he had invited upon himself. His eyes were closed in deep thought at his predicament.

It was then he heard the voice,” Cut, pack up. The day’s shooting is over.”. The garishly rich young man, smiled at the director and readied to get into the sleek car as the door was opened by his chauffeur.

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Who scooped the butter?

                          A topical story on Janmashtami day

Sukanya was like any other twelve-year-old girl, gregarious and fun loving, playing with neighbourhood girls but studious in studies coming in the top three of the class. Strangely in the last three months, she had changed into a silent and serious type not mingling with others. Even her parents wondered at the change.

It all happened suddenly when on a visit to her grandmother’s place, she was gifted with a doll of Sri Krishna. It was a two feet high, doll of Krishna in blue colour standing with a flute in hand and a cow behind. With His bewitching smile and handsome features, the doll of Krishna caught the fancy of the little girl. Her grandmother had narrated to her, the story of Meera Bai and her unflinching devotion to the Lord despite the trials and tribulations she faced. The story made a deep impact on the young girl and transformed her completely. She lost interest in studies and playing with friends. She spent all the time other than school hours with the doll she had kept in the puja room, dressing it up, making flower garlands, talking to it, singing bhajans and doing puja. A beautiful girl, she was blessed with a sweet voice and sang well with devotion.

Her parents were upset initially with her constant attention to the doll to the detriment of her studies, play and other chores. While her mother Savitri understood the girl’s love for the doll and her sincere devotion to the Lord, she did not confide much to her husband Hariharan knowing his impulsive nature. As a result, Hariharan was not fully aware that Sukanya spent most time with the doll.

About two months later, Hariharan when on evening walk happened to meet Sukanya’s class teacher whom he knew slightly having met in one of the school functions. The teacher from the other side of the pathway signalled him to stop and came towards him. After the pleasantries, the teacher asked him, “I find of late Sukanya lagging behind in studies. She was always in the top three but she is not performing well. More than that, she is morose and not the ebullient type she used to be. Lucky I met you today. I have been wanting to apprise you. Is she not well or what?”

“Thanks for informing. She is in good health I will look into it, “replied Hariharan.

As soon as he reached home, he asked his wife angrily, “Where is Sukanya? Call her here and you also remain here.”

The girl came out of the puja room with a flower garland in her hand unaware of her father’s mood. Hariharan plucked the garland from her hand and threw it away to a corner. He roared in anger at Sukanya who looked dazed, “Look here, I have just met your class teacher and I had to hang my head in shame when he made unflattering remarks about your performance and morose ways in the last two months and asked me whether you are keeping well. I find that you are always closeted with the doll in puja room and I have not seen you before your study table. I am not also happy with your mother in not sharing about your lazy ways and playing like a three year old baby with a doll. I am going to put it in the loft tomorrow. I warn you no more playing with doll.  I hope you will mend your ways.”

She cried inconsolably pleading, ’Appa, I am not playing with the doll. He is Lord Krishna. I am doing puja daily decorating him and offering raisins while singing bhajans in His glory. I promise to study well as before and score high marks. Please do not deprive me of my dear Krishna, I beg you appa.”

 After Savitri’s persuasion, he relented on the condition that she spent only 30 minutes in the morning and again in the evening and that she went to play daily, do her homework like before. She readily agreed but audaciously put a stipulation that her mom should provide her with butter in a small cup for her Lord. This was agreed to by them without fuss and inwardly happily.

 She knew that Krishna loved butter most. The doll remained in the puja room and not a day passed without Sukanya doing the soul stirring Bhajans, puja and offering of butter to the lord, all within the stipulated 30 minutes. The parents too saw no harm in her devotion, as it did not clash with her studies, play and other chores

One day when she had finished the puja, she found the butter had been scooped as if by small fingers. With surprise and glee, she asked her mom to witness the strange happening. When her mom looked at the cup and her fingers, Sukanya denied amidst sobs that she had not touched the butter. While they didn’t know what could have caused it, they decided to keep quiet. When this phenomenon happened in the successive three days, her mom told her husband about the strange occurrence.

The father called the girl and told her sternly that he would stop all the puja if she did not come out with the truth. With this veiled accusation as if she had taken the butter, the girl denied her hand vehemently. But the dad was not convinced and said, “I have not come across any incident of God taking the prasad offered to him. May be you are not aware that you are unconsciously handling the butter. I think there is something fishy about the whole thing.” Sukanya was deeply hurt but did not respond unwilling to provoke him.

The next day Hariharan stayed at home to get into the bottom of the matter. When the girl was doing the puja, he surreptitiously came down without the knowledge of the girl and his wife who was busy in the kitchen. Now and then, he saw through a narrow opening of the puja room door, the girl singing softly with her eyes closed. When the song was over and the puja seemed to end, he peeped again through the opening. What he saw astounded him.

 He saw a boy of ten years bluish in colour with yellow silk around his waist, a peacock feather on his head and a flute in hand stooping down to the cup and taking the butter with his fingers. When the boy turned his gaze towards the opening in the door, Hariharan instantly fell unconscious.

 Hearing the commotion both Sukanya and her mom came running towards him.” Appa, please open your eyes. What happened? Why did you faint?” asked Sukanya.

When the man blabbered about the blue boy he saw with his flute and the feather, her mother splashed some water on his face and gave him some to drink.She waited  for  him to  calm down.

 She said “What boy and where is he? The front door is locked. There is no one here. Sukanya also hasn’t seen anyone. Are you day dreaming?”

 “No, I saw him distinctly. I have never seen such a beautiful face and the eyes were red in colour of unparalleled beauty. He stooped down and scooped the butter. Believe me, you can see the cup yourself if you do not trust me.”

When they saw the cup, they found the butter had been removed by two tiny fingers. Sukanya with tears welled up in her eyes shouted in elation and excitement, “Kanna, Krishna, Govinda, Navneetha chora, how lucky I am that you have heard my prayers and had come to stand by my side. How unlucky I was to keep my eyes closed when you stood near me and ate the butter? Why did you not make some noise?”

 The parents embraced the girl who was in rapture and delight and smothered her with kisses.

 The choice is yours, dear reader, to dispute the strange happening or trust in full faith as Lord's Divine grace.

Sunday, June 7, 2020

Raghu,a boy of a different mettle



Raghuram, Raghu in short, was a class mate of mine in seventh standard in my younger days. I have forgotten most of the other boys but I still remember distinctly his face for the prominent beak shaped nose. He was slightly built and had a constant puckered smile on his soft face. He never talked unless spoken to and rarely mingled with others. He did not participate in sports. He was happy to be left alone to his devices. He wore his caste mark prominently on his face. He was not distinguished in his studies. Except in Sanskrit, history and moral sciences, he had no interest in other subjects. He just scraped through, I think.
I remember one incident when the class teacher asked us to write in one page of what we wished to be when we grew old. Some of us wrote about our wish to be engineers, while some wanted to be teachers and some others business men or lawyers and such like callings. When the boys were discussing excitedly among themselves, Raghu stood aside alone without showing any interest.
We did not know that Raghu was different from us till the afternoon. We came to know when the teacher called him softly by his side and asked him to tell the class on what he wished to be. He kept quiet feeling embarrassed. The teacher goaded him telling that there was nothing to feel shy about and that he was proud to be his teacher.
Thus prompted, the boy said, “I wish to be a monk and recede to forest to meditate on my God and do Tapasya till I have His darshan.” There was a disbelief and stunned silence even as the boys saw the teacher wiping his tears from his eyes.
The teacher wondered at the serendipitous discovery and felt that this deep devotion and serene detachment from worldly ways of the boy’s age were not common possessions. Least of all are they to be found in a teen aged school boy. Later after the class was over, the teacher patted Raghu gently on his shoulder and told him “Will you take me along with you to meet your parents this evening. I wish to pay my obeisance to the fortunate couple.”
Raghu immediately implored “Sir, please do not mention about this essay of mine to them. They are already unhappy with me about my poor marks and my ways.”
“Why are you not studying well? You score well in Sanskrit and a few other subjects but seem to neglect important subjects. What is it that you do to displease your parents? Should you not listen to them?” he gently asked.
Raghu said, “Excuse me if I am in the wrong. I am a great devotee of Sri Ramachandra and Sri Anjaneya swami. I have their idols and do puja both mornings and evenings. I do not know why but I wish to do nothing else except thinking of my Lord. My father is against all these as he considers them a waste of time to the detriment of my studies and  future. He wants me to stop all this and go out to play with other boys. He beats me if he sees me sitting before my darling idols. So I have hidden them in the terrace and do the puja unknown to him. My mom knows but she does not dissuade me.”
The teacher kept silent and later learnt from his parents that what all he had stated was true. Both the parents were dejected and had given up hopes of ‘reforming’ the boy. He did not mingle with his siblings except a little with mom and spent all the waking hours before the idols and deriving pleasure in dressing them and singing bhajans praising their glories.
The teacher knew that the great Acharya Sankara himself pleaded with his mother at the age of seven to allow him to renounce the world. Coming to our own time, a twelve-year-old Ramana felt a spiritual tug in his heart strings that set him forth on his spiritual journey. In the instant case too, the teacher perceived an uncommon boy who had a rare spiritual hunger and deep devotion to Lord Ram and who gave all his unwavering attention and time praying to Him in the hope of having His darisan. The teacher kept quiet as he knew that it was best not to interfere with the boy’s ‘spiritual progress’ only to safeguard his parental wishes.
Years had gone by. I lost touch with Raghu after I came out of the school but the essay incident in the school remained etched in my mind. It was some decades later I accidentally met his younger brother who was also then studying in the same school.
I learnt that Raghu did his graduation in Sanskrit and did not marry. He became a Sanskrit pundit in a school. He had not changed a bit except that his devotion grew intense. He did not become a sanyasin or wore ochre robes. After his parents died, he stayed alone and had his food brought from a nearby temple on payment. He spent all his leisure hours in a religious Mutt, assisting them in their activities and tending to the sick and needy persons. No one knew what puja he did and when. He lived a life of recluse and did not participate in family functions. He gave away his share of the property to charitable institutions. The last the brother heard about Raghu was that he lived in a temple town spending his remaining days in the temple. He preferred solitude and discouraged any contact with him. He had obviously discovered his real identity, knew his true nature and felt the presence of Supreme spirit in everything and everywhere.
I chose to visit the same temple soon hoping to see him. Yes, I could see him sitting in a corner near Anjaneya shrine and went near him with folded hands. He had grown a beard, looked emaciated but the puckered smile was intact. I could see his penetrating eyes that seemed at once far away and distant as he saw me. When I introduced myself, there was no display of emotion or flicker of eyes but total silence with no hint of recognition. I wondered whether he was in a state of trance, Samadhi. I was convinced that he is no ordinary soul. He has turned an evolved person who belonged to this world and yet not part of it. Life for him was a voyage that he had to undertake to liquidate his past karmic debts. Involuntarily I fell at his feet before leaving with my eyes moist and throat choked with emotions. That was the last I saw him.
Fully conscious that such divine grace does not come by to all, I could only proudly tell my children and grandchildren that I had the privilege of studying together with a karma yogi who had realised himself.
The winds of grace are always blowing; it is for us to raise our sails.”


Thursday, June 4, 2020

Homage


(A story written 11 years back have not been read by many current readers).
Venkat was in class seven. He was taking regular tuition from his Sanskrit teacher as his father wanted him to become proficient in that language. He went to his master’s house in the evenings to learn. His teacher was dark complexioned, frail and small built man in his early forties. His teeth were not aligned properly and he had a dangling tuft in the unkempt hair that was not tied properly. His face always bristled with unshaven hair. He was on the whole an unattractive person. But he was a great scholar of gentle disposition and soft in words. One rarely saw him smile. He had a soft corner for Venkat as he was studious and excelled soon in Sanskrit.
The teacher’s wife slightly taller than him, very fair and was exceptionally beautiful. Slightly plump with a twinkle in her eyes, she was always well dressed and appeared graceful in her deportment. She must have been younger by more than ten years to the teacher. She too liked Venkat very much, called him Venky affectionately and gave him often some delicacies to eat while running her hand over his head.
Venkat found that his teacher was always morose and lost in thought when he was with him teaching Sanskrit in the evenings. The lady would be watching TV serials or reading some film magazines or novels. He had not seen them talking much with each other. There was always a constricted atmosphere in the house. But when the teacher was not around, Venkat could see her happily laughing and playing with him or with the small babies from the adjoining houses. Venkat felt that the couple did not get along well as they had no children of their own.
The teacher had a strange habit of forgetting to bring something or the other to the school. He would send Venkat almost daily to his house during the day at no fixed hours asking him to bring a book, a pen or lunch box. When he returned he used to pat him and ask him whether he saw anyone in the house. Venkat would reply that he saw none as auntie always gave the article through the window. It appeared to the boy that the teacher was not satisfied with his reply. Months flew by but the routine remained unchanged.
One afternoon when Venkat went to the house, he did not knock the door as he usually did but peeped in through the window that was not fully closed. To his great shock, he saw an uncle reclined on the lap of auntie and both of them laughing about something. Venkat quietly withdrew and knocked the door and asked for the book the teacher had forgotten. As usual she did not open the door but gave him the book through the window before closing it fully.
Venkat was confused whether to tell the teacher or not. To his young mind it struck for the first time that auntie was not good. He started disliking her but did not tell the teacher what he saw. He felt sad for some unknown reason for his teacher. Nevertheless, he chose to peep through the window thereafter whenever there was a vent before knocking the door. He found the same uncle frequently in the house hugging the auntie or caressing her till one day the auntie found out the peeping Tom.
She pushed the man aside and came running to Venkat highly excited asking him how long he was there. Venkat pretended that he had just come and gave no indication of what he saw. She did not appear convinced of what he told her. She said she was afraid thinking that a stranger was peeping when she was alone in the house. She asked him to wait and brought a box full of chocolates. She told him after giving the box that she liked him very much and that he should not peep in future. On his way to the school Venkat threw the box in disgust into the garbage bin.
It was a week after this incident one day when he came to the school in the morning, he found all the teachers standing outside in groups talking in hushed tones with many boys milling around. Sensing something amiss he went near them only to learn that his beloved Sanskrit master had committed suicide in the early hours of the day.
The teachers were all discussing what could be the reason for him to take this extreme step of hanging at this young age. He had no worries financial or otherwise and seemed happily married to a charming wife. What more one could want? True he had no children but these days so many people adopt children. None were wiser for the reason the gentle teacher chose to inflict upon himself this ultimate and irreversible punishment.
Tears trickled from Venkat’s eyes. But he was determined to remain quiet to keep his revered teacher’s fair name and dignity unsullied by lowly gossip.